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SUDANESE MIGRANTS' BOAT SANK, 13 DEAD 27 MISSING; TUNISIA LIKELY TO INCREASE OPERATIONS AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING | THE DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE OF UKRAINE REPORTED RUSSIAN FORCES ARE USING STARLINK

February 8-14, 2024 | Issue 6 - AFRICOM and EUCOM

Giorgia Cito, Agathe Labadi, Hae Lim Park, Kiara Alexander, Tejas Vaidya

Christina Valdez, Elena Alice Rossetti, Senior Editor


Map of Sfax[1]


Date: February 8, 2024

Location: Off the coast of Tunisia

Parties involved: Tunisia; Tunisian government; Tunisian Coast Guard; Sudan; Sudanese migrants; South Sudan; North African smugglers, coyotes; organized crime groups; Libya; Egypt; Europe; Italy; African Union (AU); UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); EU

The event: A boat with 42 Sudanese migrants on board sank in the Mediterranean Sea, resulting in 27 missing and at least 13 deaths. According to the Tunisian Coast Guard, the boat was heading to Italy from the coast of Sfax which is 188 km away from the Island of Lampedusa.[2] Sudan is facing a 10-month conflict that resulted in the destruction of infrastructure, widespread famine, and the displacement of millions of people in neighboring countries.[3] In 2023, Tunisia replaced Libya as the main departure point for boat journeys to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea, recording a surge of migration that caused the deaths of almost 1,000 migrants off the coast of Tunisia.[4] 

Analysis & Implications: 

  • The ongoing conflict in Sudan will very likely increase migration flows in Tunisia as the main jumping-point for boat journeys, very likely contributing to the humanitarian crisis and increasing the number of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea. The persistence of the conflict will very likely result in further violence and instability in Sudan, likely increasing the mass migration from Sudanese seeking safety and refuge outside the country, such as in Tunisia and South Sudan hoping to reach a final destination in Europe. The Tunisian government will very likely intensify the expulsion of illegal migrants, likely exacerbating migrants’ vulnerability and raising concerns about human rights and migrants’ safety. The UNHCR will very likely call on the Tunisian government to coordinate a response that protects migrants’ rights and manages migration policies.

  • The Tunisian government will likely escalate investigations and operations against coyotes, illegal boats, organized crime groups’ illegal smuggling, and human trafficking to mitigate the increase of such activities in the region and the safety threat they pose to individuals. Tunisia will likely request technical and military support from its neighboring countries, including AU members, likely establishing joint border security measures, cross-border operations, and intelligence sharing between nations. The AU and EU will likely develop further cooperation to enhance migrant protection between the two continents to ensure the safety and security of the human rights of migrants and refugees who cross the Mediterranean Sea, and to promote safe and regular migration.

  • The coyotes will very unlikely change their main form of smuggling through marine transportation since a high number of fleeing Africans demand to migrate to Europe. The coyotes will likely adapt to the increasing maritime security measures, likely implementing new smuggling techniques, such as changing vessels on the open sea to avoid counter operations by State security personnel. Coyotes will very likely explore new sea route possibilities in North Africa through less monitored regions, such as Egypt, likely passing through international waters to reduce the risk of interception or using less known coasts to embark and disembark migrants.


Date: February 11, 2024

Location: Donetsk Region, Ukraine

Parties involved: Ukraine; Defense Intelligence of Ukraine (DIU); DIU representative Andrii Yusov; Russia; Russian forces; 83rd Russian Air Assault Brigade; Russian government-sponsored hackers; South African entrepreneur and inventor Elon Reeve Musk; private aerospace company SpaceX; private aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company Blue Origin; engineering technology provider for US national security Dynetics; social media platform, X; EU; US

The event: The DIU reported that Russian forces are using Starlink satellite internet communication terminals operated by SpaceX in the Donetsk region, specifically within the 83rd Russian Air Assault Brigade, to provide internet access near Klishchiyivka and Andriyivka. Yusov pointed out Russian troops' increasing and systematic use of Starlink.[5] Elon Musk and the official Starlink account on X denied any direct or indirect sales of Starlink terminals to Russia,[6] asserting that SpaceX does not conduct business with Russia and that Starlink service is not operational in the country. They mentioned that claims of selling Starlink in Russia are fraudulent and that any unauthorized use of Starlink terminals leads to investigation and deactivation.[7]

Analysis & Implications:

  • There is a roughly even chance that Russian forces using Starlink will undermine Ukrainian efforts to maintain secure and reliable communications essential to military and humanitarian operations. Ukraine's reliance on Starlink will likely result in the deterioration of critical communications infrastructure, likely increasing the risks related to the support and scope of the communication service. The use of Starlink by Russian forces will likely require additional diplomatic and military measures by Ukraine and its allies, such as the EU and the US, to prevent Russia from exploiting it for its strategic advantages.

  • The possible exploitation of Starlink by Russian forces will likely raise concerns about the long-term sustainability of funding and the responsible use of commercial technologies in conflict areas, likely redirecting the Ukrainian demand for communication technology toward SpaceX competitors. The Ukrainian government and its allies will likely pressure the US to investigate SpaceX, its personnel, and possible negative outcomes. SpaceX will likely start an internal audit and increase security measures by intensifying encryption and signal limitations to reduce the risks of system exploitation by a  non-authorized third party. Private aerospace competitors, such as Blue Origin and Dynetics, will likely exploit the controversy to replace SpaceX from various conflict areas and acquire ownership of those regions.

  • Russian government-sponsored hackers will likely launch multifaceted attacks against Ukrainian communication infrastructures, military bases, and aerospace technology. Hackers will likely use distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), denial-of-service (DoS), and man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks to intercept Ukrainian communication to break transmission, likely reducing Ukrainian operations and retaliation efficiency and prevention. Russian forces will very likely use the Ukrainian military exposure as an advantage to attack strategic infrastructures and gain territory.


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1] Sfax Map by Google Maps

[2] 13 people are dead and 27 missing after a boat carrying Sudanese migrants to Europe sank, AP News, February 2024, https://apnews.com/article/tunisia-migrants-dead-missing-sinking-sudan-90a25c84cdc614488b1104d2d647a785 

[3] UNICEF says 700,000 children in Sudan at risk of worst form of malnutrition, Reuters, February 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/unicef-says-700000-children-sudan-risk-worst-form-malnutrition-2024-02-09/ 

[4]Twenty-seven missing, 13 dead after Sudanese migrant ship sinks off Tunisian coast, Reuters, February 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/twenty-seven-migrants-missing-after-boat-sinks-off-tunisia-13-dead-2024-02-08/ 

[5] Russians Have Starlink – Defence Intelligence of Ukraine Confirms Using of Satellite Communication Terminals by Occupants, Defense Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, February 2024, https://gur.gov.ua/en/content/starlink-u-rosiian-hur-pidtverdzhuie-vykorystannia-okupantamy-terminaliv-suputnykovoho-zviazku.html 

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